Interview with a Vampire
Vampires have captured people’s imaginations for centuries and have provided fodder for the Gothic horror-romance genre of fiction since the 18th century. In the past, fictional vampires were typically portrayed as immortal predatory creatures that feed upon the blood of human victims, sometimes turning their victims into vampires themselves.
The recent vampire revival in fiction and entertainment, with successful film and television series such as The Twilight Saga, The Vampire Diaries and True Blood, has blurred the lines between fantasy and reality and added a certain amount of glamour to the vampire archetype.
In 2008, HBO produced a short documentary True Bloodlines: Vampire Legends to promote the True Blood television series. Charlaine Harris, the author of The Southern Vampire Mysteries on which the television series is based, states in it that she is “using the vampire community as a metaphor for larger things”. The show’s storyline is considered to be an allegory for the struggle for minority rights. As real as such fictional vampires may seem to some people, that is not the type of vampire that I interviewed.
I am also not referring to the toxic type of attention-seeking manipulative individual that regularly depletes us of our energy and positivity without our explicit permission, sometimes referred to as a “psychic vampire” or an “emotional vampire”.
I interviewed Octarine Valur, a Vampire and fellow Penton blogger, in order to gain a better understanding of the modern vampire subculture. Octarine Valur (Val) is her “nightside” alias and the name under which she writes for Penton.
Before the interview, I did some research on mortal humans who identify themselves as Vampires and discovered that there is quite a wide variety, ranging from teenage outcasts in search of a community where they can find acceptance to people from all walks of life who believe that they need to supplement their energy by feeding upon the blood or subtle energies of other living beings on a regular basis in order to stay healthy (in addition to a normal human diet). The latter group are known as sanguine Vampires (blood feeders) and psychic/psi Vampires (energy feeders), and some people are hybrids of the two types.
Real-life vampirism is described among other things as roleplaying, a lifestyle, a blood fetish, a ritual, a spiritual path, a religion and an energy deficiency condition. In reality, one or more of these descriptions may apply to the practices of a particular person who identifies themselves as a Vampire. Not all Vampires drink blood, and not all Vampires who drink blood do so out of necessity. As the alternative spelling of Vampyre means different things to different people, I will simply use the capitalized spelling Vampire here to distinguish the word from a fictional vampire.
I also broached the subject in public and read the comments of News24 readers to some recent articles on the subject (see links below), which made me realize that I had been somewhat desensitized to the subject. The overwhelming initial reaction of the public is usually one of disbelief and ridicule, which is probably not totally surprising given their lack of exposure to this particular subculture and alternative beliefs and lifestyles in general, the complexity of the subject, and the fictional stereotypes connected with the label in their minds. In contrast, the reactions of Penton readers to Val’s posts about the subject have ranged from mild curiosity to vocal intolerance which has divided the local Pagan community.
Octarine Valur (Vampire and Penton blogger)
Helen: I tried to research the subject before asking my questions and received some recommendations from yourself and other Vampires regarding information resources (see lists below). To be honest it is all a bit overwhelming and confusing. It seems to me that one website or book can have a very narrow focus and does not necessarily provide the full picture. I found myself wishing that there was a single relatively simple but comprehensive “Vampires for Dummies”. Did I leave any important basic information resources out of my lists and/or do you have any comments about these information resources?
Penton: The Truth Doesn’t Sparkle
Val: My column on Penton – I’m very humbled that Damon invited me to write on the Vampyre Community (VC) here, as I see it as an opportunity to educate and to build bridges of friendship between the VC and Pagans.
Val: This is the SAVA news and information site, it has some very informative articles on it about the SAVA and the growing SA VC.
News24: Vampires gain popularity 23 January 2011
Val: One of the oldest, best-known internet resources for Vampyres.
Val: Arguably the world centre of Vampyre religion for the psi vamp community.
Val: The AVA is one of the leading community groups in the USA, and the world today. Few if any such groups can claim to have done as much for the international VC as the AVA, in terms of raising awareness, and working for education and tolerance and community building.
Vampires Today by Joseph Laycock
Val: Currently the very best professional study on the real Vampyre Community by a researcher who spent 2 years living and working among real Vampyres.
The Psychic Vampire Codex by Michelle Belanger
Val: A very good book, somewhat religious in nature, but detailing very clearly instructions on how to work energy and various psi feeding techniques useful to the newly awakened.
Vampyre Sanguinomicon by Father Sebastiaan
Helen: You have mentioned that medicine and science have not yet figured out your condition, if I may call it that. Have there been any serious academic studies published or any related scientific breakthroughs yet? Have you or any other Vampires that you know approached a medical doctor about your condition and, if so, what was their response? Are there any doctors who are more open-minded and helpful than others, and would you refer such doctors to other Vampires? Do you know of any doctors who are Vampires themselves?
Val: Many vamps have related how they approached their doctors about certain issues, but most often without asking direct questions like “Am I a vampire?”. I’m sure you could guess what would follow. Vampire doctors? I think the risk in going public with that would harm their practices – sorry, I just had a flash of someone in a white medical coat, saying “Trust me, I’m a Vampyre”. LOL. Personally, I don’t know any vamps who are also doctors, but statistically there have to be some. Often we encounter others who are in the medical profession who are medics, nurses or lab technicians – why not doctors? The scientific study side has long been neglected, but I’m happy to say that in the past 5 years on the international level, it seems that enough medical curiosity has been piqued in order to motivate some to take a closer look. In 2006, an in-depth study of real self-identified vampires, called the VEWRS and AVEWRS was conducted internationally by an American group called Suscitatio LLC. The results of this study are being quoted and used by researchers and academics alike. In some cases, particularly where psychic vampires are involved, certain university labs in the USA have engaged in various studies concerning energy transfer. As for academic research, the book by Joe Laycock you listed above is the definitive work to date on the real-life vampire community, and is being much talked about in academic circles. Currently there are also other medical tests being planned which will check the blood of self-identified Vampyres for anomalies which may explain their condition. Just last week, a study was publicized where aged lab mice were shown to exhibit youthful characteristics and behaviour when injected with the blood of younger mice, and vice versa.
Helen: How does one distinguish your condition from other medical conditions with similar symptoms?
Val: There is an old saying in the Community that goes “Nobody can tell you that you are a Vampyre – you just know you are”. The simple test would be if there is an Awakening or not, and whether or not the individual needs to feed, and is positively affected by feeding – and if they are deprived of it, they suffer for it. Psi-vamps will often feed unconsciously if they put off the deliberate act of feeding for long enough – such as if they are in denial, or if they are unaware of what they are and what they need. Sometimes they will start arguments or look for attention in order to feed off the emotional energy – hence the origin of the term “emotional vampire”. Hybrids and sometimes even sanguines will do so when they are close to or past feeding time, though I doubt they will benefit much from it.
Helen: How did you personally first come to realize that drinking blood would help to relieve your symptoms?
Val: When I first started craving blood I started out experimenting with raw meat in the kitchen. Also whenever I or a friend fell or hurt themselves, the whole “kiss it better” thing turned into something more direct. It was more than the taste, blood has always held a magnetism for me. When I was a young child, it seemed to me that I had this craving for it, and I would feel better afterwards. Another thing that I have noticed among sanguines is the tendency to nibble or chew the mouth lining or lips to obtain the taste of blood. We call this auto-vampirism a placebo, because it does not satisfy the hunger, it just weakens us while it satisfies the compulsion. It is a compulsion I tried for most of my life to stop. I can’t say if this is an identifying characteristic of sanguine Vampyres, but most of those I know exhibit this.
Helen: If you met someone with your symptoms who has not tried drinking blood, how would you advise them?
Val: That is a delicate matter. There is a tendency in the community to not just confront someone who experiences these symptoms without realizing they are Vampyres – we call them the “unawakened” – the shock could traumatize them. Of course, they might also not believe it. We tend to wait for people who awaken to contact us, and then advise them. When asked by seekers about the need to feed, I provide common sense guidelines about where and how to obtain donors, or animal blood, what kind of animal blood, and how fresh etc, and what safety measures to employ. Generally, I also refer them to information sources for further reading and education.
Helen: I understand that you are a hybrid Vampire and need to drink approximately a tablespoon of blood per fortnight. Is that quantity typical for a sanguine Vampire? Can you offset your blood feeding needs with psi energy feeding or do they have a different effect on you? What are the worst symptoms that you have experienced from not feeding? Could it be compared to drug addiction withdrawal symptoms, low blood sugar levels, or something else that readers can identify with? Have you ever ended up in hospital as a result of not feeding?
Val: It seems to be a fairly average amount, although there are vamps who drink less because they cannot obtain the services of regular donors, in which case they may need to find other sources, such as fresh animal blood from butcher shops etc – or the lucky ones who have regular donors, or even more than one, and who can then partake more, or more often. I psi feed from elemental energy nightly as well during my meditations, but it is not enough to go without a good sang feed at least once in two weeks as well. The effects are different, and the effects of not doing one or the other are also slightly different. The worst symptoms for me are chronic hunger, depression, fatigue, paranoia, emotional neediness and a host of other unpleasant experiences. Sometimes, if I leave off feeding for long enough, it gets so bad I wish I would die. The depression is the most puzzling part because I realize I have nothing to be depressed about. I have never been a drug user, so I cannot compare the hunger to a drug withdrawal. The shakes could be compared to low blood sugar levels I suppose. Personally, no I have never been hospitalized for not feeding, but some I know in the community have.
Helen: I understand that it is generally difficult to find blood donors and that they have different reasons for donating their blood, including meeting the needs of a relationship partner who happens to be a Vampire. Apart from medical screening, what other precautions can a Vampire take to protect themselves from the obvious health risks as well as other risks? Have you ever turned a donor down? Are most donor arrangements long-term versus ad hoc? Are you aware of any Vampires that pay their donors for their blood? I have read about sanguine Vampires surviving on animal blood instead of human blood as a last resort. Given the difficulty finding human donors, is this a workable long-term solution and what are the health risks associated with this practice? Psychic/psi vampires aside, what do you think the impact on the Vampire community would be if scientists developed a synthetic blood product like the fictional beverage featured in the True Blood show?
Val: I would say that beyond health risks, it would be a personal matter. Some vamps are not very picky about their donors, I am. Although it isn’t a foregone conclusion that a Vampyre and donor would have to be in a fixed romantic relationship, this is sometimes the case, and it would help in such a case for both to find the other attractive in some way. Some who are willing to donate to us have ulterior motives that could cause serious difficulties for a Vampyre in such a relationship – they might have an idea that they could also “turn” into Vampyres, and we sometimes get such requests, which are of course impossible. No, I don’t know any vamps who pay donors for blood, at least, not in cash. Most often, Vampyres might do favours for their donors, to help them out with things, or pay cab fare, costs of tests, other acts of kindness etc. Yes I have turned a donor down, he wanted sex in exchange for blood and I refused. Animal blood is a workable solution, although the usefulness of the blood is limited to the amount of time it has spent out of the body and in the fridge. Obtaining it is difficult, and it really is not nearly as good or effective as fresh from the source human blood. Animal blood is bearable, but depending on the species it comes from, it can be quite disgusting. Cow blood is acceptable to me, lamb’s blood is simply feral. I would say the health risks given the small doses we take are very small – after all, the blood contains pretty much the same stuff as the meat it comes from – if the meat is considered clean and disease-free, why not the blood? I know many vamps all over the world who have said they would be very happy if they could obtain fresh human blood from a blood bank or hospital. They would even pay for it. I think a synthetic – or cloned blood, such as “Tru Blood” – would go down pretty well.
Helen: For better or worse, the Vampire label has stuck resulting in inevitable comparisons with the fictional vampire stereotypes. I believe that you personally want to be taken seriously and not ridiculed because of your condition, yet apart from the label Vampires also seem to present a public image of their vampiric identity along the lines of the “dark” fictional stereotype. Is this the norm? How does one reconcile the one with the other? Is it purely a way of attracting and identifying with other Vampires and/or donors? Is it a psychological coping mechanism? Is it some sort of rebellion against society as a result of being forced to conform or hide your true identity? Is it the result of having different “dayside” and “nightside” identities that are polar opposites of each other? (I realize that the same can be said of some people in other minority identity groups including Pagans.)
Val: Helen, the vampire stereotype we have today is the result of Bram Stoker’s creation, which has evolved in the “Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood” version of the classic. But if we look further back, into the middle ages and beyond, there are other myths and legends, not necessarily referring to the undead fictional stereotype, but to living people who sucked life essence, or blood from other people. These are legends tied to historical references to the Sumerian Ak’karhu, the Ekkimu and so on, and even to the biblical tales of Lilith, as well as to ancient gods and goddesses such as Sekhemet/Hathor, and Hekate. There are even those who support theories that we are the lineage of the product of humans and ancient aliens. Consequently, within the global community there are a myriad of theories of what we are and why, and where we come from. Currently just about the only thing we can all agree on, more or less, is what we define ourselves by, as Vampyres. Regardless, when we look at the basic needs of the mythical vampire – that of needing the blood or life essence of living people to stay healthy and to survive, this is the main reason for our identification with the name “vampire” or “Vampyre”. The word itself is only a thousand years old, having evolved from older forms in different languages. Were vampires still called “upir” or “lamia” then I suppose we would identify by that name. A vampire, by any other name, is still a vampire.
Most of the vamps I know do find the vampire stereotype attractive and “cool” to be associated with in a way – but we all know very well that the stereotype is fictional. We are very well aware of the reality, and that we are not the stereotype – that we identify as vampires because of our needs. Much of the stereotype is secretive, as you point out, so is the real community. We find that this is a necessity, because of the risks in being known. If we look around us at other social minority groups in society today – people are persecuted and attacked just for loving people of the same sex – not even for drinking human blood. This is why we remain in the shadows. I have been working to raise awareness of the existence of real Vampyres in certain communities – but I have never recommended that individual Vampyres make themselves known to all their friends or family. The potential for tragedy is just too great. For many of us, our Dayside and Nightside profiles are just that – profiles. We are the same people, operating anonymously. There may be more freedom in conducting business online that way, but the idea is to interact with each other – and the mundane world – while protecting our mundane lives from outing and persecution. It is a defence mechanism. I don’t see it as a form of rebellion, and I don’t see it in the lives of others known to me. Rebellion would be more on the lines of someone who claimed to be the kind of vampire you would see in Twilight, one that is undead, immortal etc – when we all know that is pure fiction.
Helen: I understand that the objectives of the South African Vampiyre Alliance (SAVA) include facilitating co-operation between local Houses (SAVA member groups), promoting the safety of members and promoting a positive image for the local Vampire community. How do you manage the membership to ensure these objectives are met? Are there any specific membership criteria and have you ever excluded anyone? How do you distinguish a genuine Vampire from a fake Vampire who could pose a greater threat to other members and the image of the community? How is education relating to health risks and feeding ethics addressed in practical terms? Does this activity take place primarily at a House level?
Val: Only serious members who apply are considered. Those who apply don’t apply directly to the SAVA for membership, but to member Groups. The member Groups are the ones who evaluate candidate members, and who maintain whatever internal disciplines are appropriate to ensure safe behaviour in line with SAVA policies. Members of particular Houses are expected to attend meetings regularly, to be resident within the region of the House. Yes, we have excluded several people from the community in the past, particularly those who indulge in causing trouble within the community. Members who by their actions harm the image of the SAVA or the VC will face internal disciplinary action. We have combined Groups which have Vampyres as well as donors as members. Educational information is made available to both to educate themselves and each other on matters of feeding safety. There is a specific group for donors only, which acts almost like a union, which also works to provide advice and mentorship to new donors.
Helen: In The Psychic Vampire Codex, Michelle Belanger states that differences of opinion between psychic/psi Vampires and sanguine Vampires have divided the Vampire community (presumably in the United States). Could you tell me a bit more about these two groups in a South African context? I understand that SAVA has members of both types. What are the dynamics of the relationship between the two sub-groups? What sort of ratio exists between the two sub-groups? Is one group more dominant than the other? Is the local Vampire community more manageable in size enabling you to avoid such conflict?
Val: The divide you mention is still a prominent feature in the American community. Ten years ago, it boiled over into full-blown hostilities, now referred to as “the Psi-Sang War”. A divide still remains in the OVC (Online Vampire Community) today, which periodically threatens to flare up, but for the most part it seems the community has learned from the past, and grown. People don’t simply pick sides any more, they seem to think about it first. Here in SA, the community is still much more solitary based, with solitary practitioners completely unaware that there is a local community here, many involved in the US sites, or not at all. I don’t think they are even very aware that such a divide exists, or that there ever was a rift deep enough to almost tear the Vampire Community apart. Very early on, I set out to work to ensure that such a rift never occurs in South Africa, and so far it hasn’t come up. Our philosophy in the SAVA is that whether we feed via psi or sanguine methods, we are all equally vampiric, and thus we are all Vampyres. We don’t classify each other by our feeding methods. In order for the community to grow strong, we need to focus on the things we have in common, not the things that are different between us.
Helen: You are a Vampire who also happens to be a Pagan, and confusion initially arose among Penton readers because you are were blogging about Vampires in a Pagan magazine. You have categorically stated that the South African Vampire community does not seek to establish itself as a religious group or seek alignment with the Pagan community, but seeks tolerance and acceptance from society especially from the groups that you are already members of albeit not necessarily revealing your vampiric identity. However, some of the information resources referred to me and general symbolism used do seem to have religious or spiritual connotations as well as relating to energy work which Pagans are arguably more familiar with than most other religious groups. Is this angle not a major issue in the local Vampire community, or is it simply not something that you are collectively focussing on at this time as part of your identity?
Val: Like any community, the Vampyre Community is diverse, not only in terms of the kind of people you will find in it, but also in terms of our beliefs. For some, being like this is a religious or spiritual matter – and they will bend any belief system or religion to fit their circumstances. Some will invent their own religions, drawing on eclectic sources to do so – and there are several such vampire religions out there, some which could even be described as “pagan” due to their pantheons and belief structures. For Psi vamps, many consider that energy work and feeding are closely related. Many sanguines also believe that when we feed from living blood, we absorb the life-essence or energy from that blood. Again, some may attach some deeper meaning to the act, but for me the difference is that for one group it may be a ritual as part of a religion – for me it is something I have to do to stay healthy and balanced. Beyond this, the community is varied and diverse in its beliefs. There are Vampyres who are Pagan, Hindu, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and even Christian, believe it or not. The SAVA is a secular organization, and the House I am a member of, also. As a community body we do not ascribe to any religion, and freedom of religion is the right of the individual member to choose – and we do not intend to classify vampirism or our vampiric nature as a religion, least of all to work for it to be fully included within any single religion. To do so would be illogical, being that there are just so many diverse groups within the community. However, as a community body, we have taken it upon ourselves to work for the acceptance of Vampyre-kind among whichever religious or social group gives us the opportunity to do so. It is the prevailing opinion within the global VC, and not just here in South Africa, that religion is what we choose to believe in – being a Vampyre is what we are – and not a choice.
Damon Leff (owner and editor of Penton Independent Pagan Media)
Helen: How did you first learn about the local Vampire community and Octarine Valur?
Damon: I admit to once being guilty of referring to Paganism in South Africa as “a freak show”. I was offended that some Pagans I had encountered, especially online, believed the term itself simply meant “anything goes”; I say this in the context of my own identification of the modern religious movement of Paganism as somehow grounded more in authentic research and practice of pre-Christian religions. I now regret that the statement was actually levelled at some Pagans who actually believed that Vampirism was ipso facto a Pagan religion. Clearly I believed, and still believe, that vampirism per se is not so much a religion as a pre-occupation of belief, whatever that enabling belief. My first brief chat with Val in October 2010 was, if I remember correctly, a question from her about South African laws and their application to blood drinking, especially in relation to ritual, belief and religious practice. There are obviously laws against the taking of blood through criminal means but none that I know of that completely prohibit the sacrifice of animals for blood or the drinking of blood. Both of these practices are a feature of traditional African religions and are protected in ethical practice in three sections in the Bill of Rights.
“Bill of Rights Chapter Two Constitution of the Republic of South Africa
30. Language and culture
Everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice, but no one exercising these rights may do so in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights.
31. Cultural, religious and linguistic communities
1. Persons belonging to a cultural, religious or linguistic community may not be denied the right, with other members of that community
a. to enjoy their culture, practise their religion and use their language; and
b. to form, join and maintain cultural, religious and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society.
2. The rights in subsection (1) may not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights.
15. Freedom of religion, belief and opinion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.
2. Religious observances may be conducted at state or state-aided institutions, provided that
a. those observances follow rules made by the appropriate public authorities;
b. they are conducted on an equitable basis; and
c. attendance at them is free and voluntary.”
Whilst Val does not specifically identify Vampirism as a Pagan religion, she does identify herself, her spiritual/religious self, as a Pagan. I understand and appreciate the alternative use of Vampyrism, as she prefers to spell it. Reclaiming a particularly loaded word by altering its spelling alters its pre-conceived stereotypes. Val has pointed out that the belief systems of the Akkadians, Chaldeans, Babylonians and Sumerians all made extensive reference to Ekimmu, Ak’hkaru and related entities who were viewed mythologically as vampires. I won’t argue with history or mythology.
I admit, as I did to her then, that beyond a passing curiosity of the phenomenon in literature and film, I have absolutely no interest in the subject, either in a religious or sub-cultural sense. I accept that it has become a popular sub-cultural movement, but I don’t agree that it is in any way akin to clearly identified pagan or Pagan religious belief systems as I know them. I accept that others may disagree with me. Whether or not we agree, everyone is entitled by law to self-identify as they choose, even if it means we must disagree on what does or does not constitute the modern Pagan religious movement. I won’t exclude Val from a religious community she obviously feels a part of. I don’t think anyone else should either.
Helen: What was your rationale for inviting Val to blog for Penton?
Damon: Val responded to a request for bloggers to write for Penton. As she said in 2010, “Agreeing or disagreeing doesn’t mean people need to stop talking.” I wanted her to share with Penton’s readers what was happening in her own insular community. If diversity has any value at all it must be the opportunity to encounter difference, to understand it, to relate to it in a positive and meaningful way. I think Val has succeeded in shifting quite a few preconceived beliefs regarding Vampyrism and those amongst us who identify as Vampires in South Africa.
Helen: Do you have any firm criteria regarding Penton bloggers or blog posts?
Damon: Other than that Penton’s bloggers have their own point of view and blog weekly, I don’t set any criteria for content. I want Penton’s bloggers to feel free enough to write whatever they want to, on anything they want to. The assumption some often make is that Pagans only talk about Paganism, when in fact we have a great many non-Pagan specific interests other Pagans may also take an interest in.
Helen: Did you anticipate the controversy that arose as a result of Val’s posts? Has there been such a negative reaction from Penton readers before and, if so, what were the circumstances?
Damon: Naively, no. Perhaps if I had I would have prepared better for the ensuing pitch of tar and feathers. As I explained in my editor’s letter in July, grappling with diversity of thought, belief and opinion can, for some, be an onerous and challenging experience. Penton’s inclusion of material on Vampirism, dual-faith (Christian-Pagan) religion and Satanism has elicited both praise and condemnation. Pagans who remain intolerant toward proselytizing forms of Christianity have argued against the inclusion of Christian content in a Pagan magazine, whilst others have argued equally against the inclusion of content on Vampirism and Satanism on the grounds that neither are “Pagan”, or more specifically “Wiccan”. Penton does not, and has never, claimed to represent only one pre-approved or consensual form of Paganism or neo-Paganism (whether that be reconstructionist, eclectic or new-age). On the contrary, since 1995 Penton Magazine has been dedicated in its exploration of Pagans and Paganism and associated occult philosophy, sacred spirituality and religion, in its diversity. Penton will continue to do so. The right of association isn’t really relevant to the content of this or any other magazine. Penton is not supported by advertising and thus remains wholly independent.
Helen: What impact have Val’s posts had on Penton readership overall? Did you gain some new readers and bloggers as well as losing some readers and bloggers?
Damon: I think we’ve lost a few readers. I imagine most of Penton’s regular readers are still getting used to the increased frequency of publication. I’m also sure we’ve attracted a new kind of reader, whether curious about Vampyrism or not. Two bloggers opted not to write for Penton anymore. Four new bloggers joined the team. I suspect everyone has learned something valuable from this. I hope readers will continue to engage with Penton’s blogs and articles, whether the content leaves them feeling fulfilled or tormented.
Helen: Can we expect more controversial posts in future and what types of new bloggers are you keeping an eye out for?
Damon: I am always looking for new bloggers who have a point of view on any subject. I would love to include writers who enjoy argument and analysis, who thrive on political comment, news and entertainment. I would especially love to include budding journalists looking to exercise their investigative skills. Penton has published and will continue to publish diverse and controversial material and will continue to widen its diversity by inviting new bloggers from many different backgrounds and life-styles to join its existing team of bloggers. In an ideal world everyone would be paid for their work but Penton does not generate any financial benefit. I know that those who write for Penton do so because they love to write for its own sake, and I thank them for their creative generosity.
Helen: As far as I can tell, the initial response from Penton readers to Val’s posts was positive. Do you have any idea why later reactions were less positive and why these posts ultimately led to so much conflict in the local Pagan community? Do such conflicts arise often? Are they part of the growing pains of a young community trying to define its identity? Did the viral nature of online discussions contribute to blowing the whole story out of proportion?
Damon: I agree. I think more people grew from their encounter with Val’s blog “The Truth doesn’t sparkle”. If Witches have learned anything from our own experience as an out community it is that silence and shadows breeds mistrust, perpetuating groundless fears of the unknown.
It would be unfair of me to paint a picture of a community of individuals who would prefer to see other Pagans fail than succeed. Most Pagans actually remained silent on the issue. A very few chose to marshal their morality against what they perceived to be a threat against the Pagan community from within their own rank and file. The content in question neither promotes war, nor incites violence, and it does not advocate hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion. It might shock you or leave you breathless, but it can’t prevent you from practicing your personal religion the way you choose to. I think there will always be new Pagans looking to stamp their own identity on what they perceive to be real for them at that moment. Largely online discussion didn’t really help to resolve the conflict of perception, but a lot of people who did participate in online conversations learned something about their own prejudices and where they were prepared to draw the line.
Helen: The storyline of the True Blood show is considered to be an allegory for the struggle for minority rights and the similarities to the experiences of local Vampires coming out in the open are surreal. While Pagans are subjected to intolerance themselves, the local Pagan community forms a diverse group and tolerance levels towards others vary considerably within the group. Do you believe that the local Pagan community can learn from this experience and handle a similar situation better in future? What have you personally learnt from the experience? Is there anything you would have done differently in hindsight? Do you have any suggestions for how any future conflicts of this nature can be managed in a more civilized and constructive manner?
Damon: Our national religious community is not free of prejudice. We’re a reflection of the society in which we live, not apart from it at all. We live in a largely intolerant society, especially toward minorities of every kind. I hope we can start looking at each other as people and not as labels or objects. We don’t have to agree, but if we’re going to give the “Pagan religion” ideal a go, we have to start with the willingness to accommodate difference, allow for honest dissent, and seek common ground as humans first.
I would like to thank Val and Damon for being so accommodating and making this post possible.
This article was originally published on Friday, September 9, 2011.